What looked like another American rout turned tense late at Muirfield Village, as the International team regrouped during a 90-minute weather delay to cut the deficit to just one point after the first six matches. It was ugly for the first couple hours, as they trailed in all six matches. But Nick Price's team charged back late in the gloaming in Columbus. The Americans, led by Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, hold a 3.5- to 2.5-point lead after six Four-ball matches.
Match One - International team wins, 1 up
The all-important lead-off match was probably the best match of the day. It was a critical point for the International side, which needed Columbus resident and Muirfield Village member Jason Day to get the better of Mahan and Snedeker. Day and DeLaet, a Canadian who may have been playing the best golf of all 24 competitors coming into the week, were probably the International's best chance for a point and Mahan-Snedeker was certainly a beatable duo.
The Internationals took a quick lead with a birdie on the opening hole, but it got changed dramatically after that. Mahan and Snedeker caught fire, sticking several approach shots into the damp and receptive Muirfield greens. They went from 1-down after one hole to 3-up after six holes and it appeared the rout may be on. But the delay let Day and DeLaet regroup, and they fought throughout the back nine to get things back to even on the 15th hole. The two teams exchanged blows over the final four holes as the match fluctuated from all square to Internationals 1-up. Day, however, slammed the door shut for the impressive comeback with a huge bomb of a birdie putt on the final hole.
And that lead-off point kept the Internationals in it, the first of a late-afternoon comeback charge across the board.
Match Two - Halved
This was another gettable match for the International side, with Scott and Matsuyama slight (and debatable) underdogs to the Wake Forest duo of Haas and Simpson. The USA team led off with a birdie, and held a lead until the 11th hole, when Scott and the Japanese phenom Matsuyama pulled things square. They were another pair that utilized the delay to rest and take back momentum late.
The Internationals hung on to keep it close, using an Adam Scott chip-in to stay alive. They came to the 18th tee 1-down, almost certainly needing a birdie to salvage a half point. And Matsuyama, who captain Price was unsure had ever played partner match golf before Monday, fired a dart into the 18th green. He didn't even need his putter, as the birdie was conceded.
Haas and Simpson could not birdie, and the Internationals picked up a half point that had to feel like a win based on how things were going for most of the afternoon. Matsuyama just turned pro in April but he could be the sneaky x-factor for Price's team, as he was nails and contended on the weekend at the season's final three majors.
Match Three - International team wins, 2&1
Louis and Charl started the day goofing around in wigs, and it seemed like they would be cannon fodder for the Mickelson-Bradley pair that was America's most dynamic team at last year's Ryder Cup. Oosthuizen was nursing neck, back and hip injuries for the entire second half of the summer, and had played almost no competitive golf since early July. He figured to be an anchor weight for Schwartzel, even though the two are childhood friends and have historically partnered together in team match play events.
But the South African pair kept Mickeson and Bradley in check on the back nine. Mickelson drilled a birdie putt on the opening hole for an early USA lead, which they held until No. 9. While the rest of the board was painted red, Schwartzel and Oosty looked to be the only International pair that would deliver any points. They took the 1-up lead on the 11th hole, and never relinquished it to close it out on the 17th green.
They were steady, but Mickelson and Bradley did not show the same magic from last fall. Lefty had just two winning birdies on the round and Bradley struggled with the belly putter, making just one winning birdie.
Match Four - USA wins, 1 up
This was the third and final match that went to the 18th hole, where Steve Stricker sank a short par putt to salvage the American advantage after Day 1. Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old phenom, certainly didn't look out of place in his debut. He sank putts from lengthy distances for much of the day, taking a cue from his partner, renowned as one of the best putters in the world.
Stricker is old enough to be Spieth's dad, but the two have comparable styles and all the signs pointed to Fred Couples putting them together.
And Spieth needed Stricker on the final hole after the young superstar rinsed his tee shot in the creek left of the fairway. Stricker needed to get up-and-down from a bunker in front the green in order to split the hole and preserve the 1-up win. With an awkward stance in the trap, he blasted out to a few feet to save par and avoid a split in the last match of the day to finish.
Ernie Els, the godfather of the International team, made only one birdie all day while rookie and controversial captain's choice Brendon de Jonge was the hottest player on the course. The Zimbabwean made eight birdies and carried Els to keep it close. This would have been a monumental split had they pulled it square on the last green, as it would have made the entire session a draw at 3 points per team. Instead, Stricker delivered to keep the US up a point heading to Friday.
Match Five - USA wins, 5&4
Tiger Woods has his partner for the week.
Kuchar and Woods were untouchable in their opening match routing an overwhelmed Cabrera-Leishman duo. This was an American team that opened with birdie and never really looked back, extending the lead on the back nine and closing it out early.
Tiger's putter was in perfect form, and he canned four birdies in a nine-hole stretch to remove all doubt. The only real drama was the development of the duo's new Fresh Prince homage celebration:
Match Six - USA wins, 5&3
This was the second American rout at the back end of the session to add another crucial point and back-up the Woods-Kuchar success. I wrote earlier in the week that Johnson and Dufner are probably America's best team when they're in form. They're unbeatable, really. The American duo now has some reps and are two of the best ball strikers in the world. The South African rookies of Grace and Sterne were not up to task. The U.S. pair blew things out before the rain delay, and were just as steady after.
Dufner, standing on the first tee, never had a doubt:
It's hard to see captain Fred Couples breaking up this duo of contrasting personalties. They've been pretty automatic and could be the points leaders when it's all over.